A pioneering human embryonic stem cell surgery performed by a medical team in London marks an important step in the ongoing trial for finding a cure for blindness. The process was carried out on a 60 year old woman at the Moorfields Eye Hospital. During the surgery, a tiny patch carrying specialized eye cells was seeded and implanted at the back of the woman’s retina. The woman, who underwent the surgery last month, wants to remain unnamed.
This endeavor is a part of the London Project to Cure Blindness. The project was established around ten years back as an attempt to reverse loss of vision in individuals suffering from AMD or age-related macular degeneration.
At this moment, researchers associated with the project have plans of performing the surgery on 10 patients diagnosed with the wet form of AMD. Each of these ten patients would have suffered sudden vision loss due to defective blood vessels in their eyes.
All these patients will be monitored for a year following the surgery to check whether the treatment is capable of improving vision and whether it’s safe.
The co-leader of the London project Professor Peter Coffey, a representative of the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, said that that at least till this Christmas he and his team will not know how much the vision of the woman, who underwent the surgery last month, has improved and how long that improvement will be maintained. What they can see now is that the position of the cells beneath the patient’s retina is perfect and they are also appearing to be healthy.
The cells have been sourced from the RPE or the retinal pigment epithelium. These are cells responsible for nourishing and supporting the photoreceptors crowding our macula or the part of the eye that gives us vision. Reports suggest that the cells used during the surgery were derived from an early embryo (obtained through donation) that was smaller even than a pinhead. Such tiny embryos are known to possess the potential of turning into any cell of our body.
In patients suffering from macular degeneration, these RPE cells die, which causes the eye to lose its functioning capability. AMD affected patients experience problems with their central vision; their central vision becomes blurred and distorted.